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THE MONK OF MOKHA

Eggers gives his hero a lot of thematic baggage to carry, but it is hard to resist the derring-do of the Horatio Alger of...

For a son of Yemeni immigrants, the American dream takes the form of reawakening his ancestral homeland to its coffee legacy, the foundation for the industry he hopes to build.

In his latest book, acclaimed novelist and McSweeney’s founder Eggers (Heroes of the Frontier, 2016, etc.) offers an appealing hybrid: a biography of a charming, industrious Muslim man who has more ambition than direction; a capsule history of coffee and its origins, growth, and development as a mass commodity and then as a niche product; the story of Blue Bottle, the elite coffee chain in San Francisco that some suspect (and some fear) could turn into the next Starbucks; an adventure story of civil war in a foreign country; and a most improbable and uplifting success story. The protagonist, Mokhtar Alkhanshali, not only made it back from Yemen after the U.S. Embassy had closed, leaving remaining American citizens to their own devices, but he was followed by a boatload of some of the richest, best coffee the world has known, “the most expensive coffee Blue Bottle has ever sold…$16 a cup.” One delicious irony is that neither the author nor his subject had been much interested in coffee exotica, with the former initially dismissing anyone “who waited in line for certain coffees made certain ways…[as] pretentious and a fool,” while the latter had only had a couple dozen cups of coffee in his life before he became a grader of beans and then an importer. But this book is about much more than coffee or Muslim immigrants or the conflicts in Yemen—it is about the undeniable value of “U.S. citizens who maintain strong ties to the countries of their ancestors and who, through entrepreneurial zeal and dogged labor, create indispensable bridges between the developed and developing worlds, between nations that produce and those that consume.”

Eggers gives his hero a lot of thematic baggage to carry, but it is hard to resist the derring-do of the Horatio Alger of Yemenite coffee.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-101-94731-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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